Next Saturday, the Quaker Meetinghouse will host its first-ever Spice of Life Fair, a collaboration between several humanitarian non-profit organizations whose goal it is to raise money for the relief of Central American women and children currently incarcerated in South Texas. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition and RAICES (Refugee & Immigration Center Education & Legal Services bond fund) are participating and Friends Peace Teams will feature the sale of Guatemalan handicrafts in order to support their non-violence programs.
The Quaker Meetinghouse is located at 7052 North Vandiver at Eisenhauer Rd. and the fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Friends Meeting of San Antonio fair planners, part of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, hope to raise enough money to bond out one detained family. This is the first effort of its kind to respond to the humanitarian disaster on our doorstep.
The fair will offer a variety of goods and services including organic veggie plants from the Urban Spice Farm, herbal healing salves & soaps from Soil Nature, home-grown citrus fruits, and handmade jewelry, in addition to a fun mix of home-baked goods, yard sale items, books, art, and kids’ stuff.
The participating humanitarian groups currently cooperate in visiting refugee families held at Karnes Detention Center, a for-profit facility run by GEO detention for Homeland Security. These groups provide pro bono legal, medical, and counseling services to the refugees.
Many women at Karnes began a hunger strike during the recent Holy Week, limiting their food intake to only one meal a day in order to bring their dismal living conditions to light. In response, GEO officials labeled these women “unfit parents,” and moved them into solitary confinement. Upon hearing about their plight, concerned citizens from San Antonio and Austin held vigils and demonstrated at Karnes and the S.A. Main Plaza to call the public’s attention to this ethical travesty. The GEO officials eventually lifted the solitary confinement conditions, but the women’s hunger strike in protest of their abysmal conditions at Karnes continued.
Refugee families experience great difficulties even upon reaching the supposed haven of the U.S. The Obama administration ended family detention five years ago, but returned to the policy last summer. The government has used the harsh treatment of families arriving in the U.S. who are fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to send a warning to anyone planning to seek asylum in the U.S.
In a Politico article published in March by University of Texas at Austin assistant professors Alfonso Gonzales and Shannon Speed, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Gilberto Rosas speak out against Texas detention centers.
“Over a thousand women and children are being held in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, the new epicenter of family detention. Combined centers in the two cities have the capacity to hold 2,900 detainees. At least 20 families have now been incarcerated for more than six months and several hundred have been deported since August.
“As social scientists who study violence in Central America, Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border, we have watched with concern as detention centers fill with vulnerable people who have already been traumatized by experiences in their home countries … we have watched their psychological and physical state deteriorate as incarceration drags on while they wait for their cases to be adjudicated.
“(Yet) DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have regularly argued that women and children should be detained until their hearings, which can in some cases take more than a year. In bond hearings in immigration court, where judges have the opportunity to allow families to pay a bond and be released while awaiting their hearing, ICE has regularly submitted documentation packets that argue that to release them would be a ‘risk to our national security.’ … last month, a federal court ordered ICE to stop using such speculative arguments to deny women and children the right to bond.”
When they are stopped at the border, women and children are separated from men, who are sent to detention in Florida. The women must then prove the “credible threat” of violence or death if deported and after pay a bond ranging from $2,500 to $7,500, with one as high as $15,000. Most women have other family members already established in the U.S.
RAICES raises money for the bonds, which stay in effect for months or even years while the asylum cases are determined. At the current rate, ten women with children can cost $75,000 in bonds. Once they are released from detention, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition provides temporary housing and then provides backpacks of supplies and money for bus fares for the women and their children to travel to their waiting relatives.
Please come enjoy shopping at our inaugural Spice of Life Fair and support social justice with your purchases. The Spice of Life Fair Contact Person is Karen Haynes, firstname.lastname@example.org or 210-858-7696.
*Featured/top image: Karen Haynes offers Urban Spice Farm organic plants at the SoFlo Farmers’ Market. Photo by Wei Huey.